City Readers Digital Historic Collections at the New York Society Library
Mary Hays (1759-1843)
Mary Hays (1759–1843) was a novelist, best known for her belief in radical feminism and her provocative history of women. She was born in 1759, into a family of Protestants who rejected the practices of the Church of England. Hays was described as 'the baldest disciple of [Mary] Wollstonecraft', attacked as an 'unsex'd female', and provoked controversy through her long life with her rebellious writings . When Hays's young lover died on the eve of their marriage, Hays expected to die of grief herself, but realised that she could now escape an ordinary future as wife and mother. She seized the chance to make a career for herself in the larger world as a writer.
Hays was influenced by Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, and eventually the two women became friends. The anti-feminist backlash following Wollstonecraft's death and posthumous publication of her Memoirs seemed to affect Hays' later, more conservative work, including the six-volume compendium Female Biography: or Memoirs of Illustrious and Celebrated Women of All Ages and Countries, in which Wollstonecraft is not mentioned. Much like Wollstonecraft, Hays and her writing received little critical evaluation or academic attention until the twentieth-century's emerging feminist movement.